Witness: Huang Sought Money at White HouseBy Edward Walsh
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, Sept. 17, 1997; Page A10
A former official in the Reagan and Bush administrations yesterday described a 1996 White House coffee at which he said controversial Democratic fund-raiser John Huang appealed for money to help reelect President Clinton.
Karl Jackson, who was national security adviser to Vice President Dan Quayle, told the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee that Huang made the appeal at the outset of a June 18, 1996, coffee with Clinton that he attended along with Democratic National Committee officials, Democratic donors and fund-raisers and the two top executives of a giant, Thai-based conglomerate.
" `Elections, as you know, cost money, lots of money, and I'm sure everyone in this room will want to support the reelection of the president,' " Jackson quoted Huang as saying.
But another witness who also attended the coffee denied Huang made such a statement, and committee Democrats belittled Republican attempts to portray the White House event as a Democratic fund-raiser disguised as a discussion of foreign policy and international trade questions.
"I don't recall [Huang] saying anything," said Beth E. Dozoretz, a major Democratic donor and fund-raiser. "If he made some remarks, they were insignificant."
Noting that the participants at the coffee were not directly asked to contribute to the Democrats before, during or after the event, Sen. Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said sarcastically, "That was some fund-raiser."
The coffee was one of 102 held at the White House during the 1996 election cycle and apparently was the only one attended by Huang, the former Commerce Department official turned Democratic fund-raiser who is at the heart of the committee's investigation into campaign fund-raising improprieties. It was arranged largely by Pauline Kanchanalak, a Thai businesswoman and Democratic fund-raiser who contributed $135,000 to the DNC within a week of the coffee.
A total of $253,000 in Kanchanalak donations was later returned by the DNC because some of it came from her mother-in-law, a foreign national who cannot legally contribute, and the source of the rest was not clear.
Throughout yesterday's hearing, committee Republicans and Democrats quibbled over exactly what constitutes a political fund-raising event. Because money was not directly solicited at the coffees and because there was no "price of admission," Democrats argued, the events were not fund-raisers, which legally cannot be held on government property.
But Republicans, pointing to DNC budget proposals that included the coffees, each with its own projected revenue goal, countered that the White House events were intended to raise campaign contributions.
"I believe very strongly that these White House coffees were illegal," said Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.). "I believe laws were broken. They were raising hard money, illegal money, in the White House."
Democrats bristled at that accusation, although one, Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman (Conn.), said that while the coffees were technically legal, they were also "wrong."
"It doesn't meet the technical definition of a fund-raiser, but this coffee and others were part of an organized effort to raise a massive amount of money, and they did just that," Lieberman said.
Thus far, Jackson, who now teaches at the School of Advanced International Studies at Johns Hopkins University, is the only witness to allege hearing a solicitation for funds at one of the many political events held at the White House. He is also president of the U.S.-Thailand Business Council, which promotes commercial relations between the two countries. Jackson was invited to the June 18 coffee by Kanchanalak along with Clarke Wallace, the council's executive director. Kanchanalak is a friend of both men.
The guests of honor at the coffee were the chairman and vice chairman of the Charoen Pokphand Group, known as the CP Group, a client of Kanchanalak's that has extensive interests in China and elsewhere in Asia.
According to Jackson, the coffee began with a statement by DNC Chairman Donald L. Fowler noting that 1996 was an important election year, "arguably as important" as the 1860 election that put Abraham Lincoln in the White House on the eve of the Civil War.
Jackson said Huang then stood and noted that elections cost "lots of money."
"This just broke everything I had been taught in my four-year service at the White House," Jackson said, describing his reaction to Huang's comment. "This was just simply breaking all the rules."
Jackson said he was "absolutely certain" of his recollection of the remarks by Fowler and Huang. He said his reaction was "disbelief tinged with anger" but that Clinton had no visible reaction. "He didn't wince or jump or anything like that, as I would have hoped because it was perilous ground," Jackson said.
No other participant in the coffee has said Huang mentioned money, and even Wallace, who also testified before the committee yesterday, did not entirely support Jackson's version of the event. Wallace said that Huang spoke near the end of the coffee, not at the beginning, as Jackson recalled, and that he did not initially remember a mention of money. But when Jackson recounted his recollection of what Huang said to him last December, Wallace said, "it sounded like something that might have been said" by Huang during the coffee. He said he was "75 percent sure" this is what happened.
Yesterday's final witness was Rawlein Soberano, vice president of the Asian-American Business Round Table, which helps Asian American businesses, especially in dealing with the federal government. Soberano said that during a 1996 lunch with Huang, who was then at the DNC, he told Huang that his organization did not even have a budget. He said Huang responded by suggesting that "we can give you $300,000, you can give it back later and you can keep 15 percent."
Soberano said that he rejected the offer and that such a transaction did not take place. He also said Huang did not mention the DNC during the conversation or specify where the $300,000 would come from.
© Copyright 1997 The Washington Post Company